Hinduism gives great importance to Gurus. It is a Guru who shapes the life of a student and gives meaning and direction to his/her existence. Just like a lighthouse guides ships to safety in the dark, a teacher guides students through the dark alleys of life. Boarding schools aren’t a new concept to Bharat. It is a tradition which had been in practise for centuries in the form of Gurukul system and unlike boarding schools there were no vacations either!!!
The relationship between a Guru and Shishya went beyond the modern day teacher-student one. In fact it was a deep bond that bound a shishya to his Guru. A guru on his part treated his shishya as a part of his family, just like his son. It was a rich tradition aimed at the all round developement of a student. The aim was to mould the child who entered the Gurukul into a worthy citizen and worthwhile torch bearer of his respective family tradition. Every student was treated at par irrespective of his caste or social status. Thus, whether one was the son of a king, priest, trader or blacksmith made no difference to the Guru. The main reason why Gurukuls were situated outside the cities, mostly close to forests, was to keep students away from distractions. After taking the oath of Brahmacharya students are taken to the Gurukul to spend the next several years of their lives under the tutelage of their Guru and his wife (Gurumata). Upanayana, initiation ceremony, was performed before the age of 8 or at the maximum by the time the child was 12 years old. Students lived in the Gurukul acquiring knowledge till they attained 25 years.
Students were not just taught shastras but emphasis was given on the all round developement of the individual. The guru assigned them tasks he deemed fit for the shishya to perform and those that would shape him up as an ideal citizen of the country. Students served both Guru and Gurumata with devotion. The Rishi couple on their part took care of each student as their own child. Students lived on alms thus teaching them humility. Respect for nature and treating her like one’s mother was also part of one’s education. Emphasis was laid on developement of character, morality, personality developement, social awareness and preservation of culture. Education was free and there was no interference from the royalty either. It was this non-interference policy that allowed Rishis and Rishikas to impart top quality education to their wards. It is worth mentioning here that Rishikas ran Gurukuls for girl students imparting knowledge of Vedas, Upanishads and other shastras.
Hinduism says that Guru is who removes our ignorance and hence each of us needs a Guru. Guru is the medium through whom jnana or knowledge flows to the shishya. This is the reason why even Shri Vishnu sort the feet of a Guru when He incarnated as Shri Rama and Shri Krishna. Some of the celebrated Gurus are Vashista, Kanva, Sandipani, Dronacharya, Yajnavalkya and several others. No wonder Gurukuls were celebrated centres of learning that carried out a yeomen service to the society.